Friday, January 8, 2010

They Follow Still...

by Auguste Rodin

Have you heard the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice? They were very much in love, but Eurydice stepped on a poisonous snake and came to a sad end. Orpheus, a magnificent musician, played songs about his loss that were so sweet, so poignant, that he was given a chance to bring Eurydice back from the Underworld.

Orpheus was forbidden to look back at Eurydice while he led her out of the Underworld -- if he turned to look, she would be lost to him forever. Would you have looked?

Orpheus couldn't help himself. He did not live much longer after losing Eurydice the second time, and Zeus laid his lyre among the stars.

Lyra, the constellation of the lyre. The brightest star is Vega, which is the second brightest star of the northern hemisphere.

Many poets and artists have been inspired by these tragic lovers. For instance, Rainier Maria Rilke wrote Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes. (translated from German by Stephen Cohn, 1997):

…[Orpheus] had to tell himself: They follow still.
He spoke the words aloud and heard them fade.
How soundlessly they moved! The silence gnawed
At him. Although he knew one backward glance
Must utterly destroy the whole design
So nearly now achieved, he ached, he longed
At last to halt, to turn and look behind
And in the distance see those other two
Who followed but who stayed so strangely mute:
The God of distant journeys, God of Messages,
Whose eyes were bright beneath the dusty hood,
His slender baton held in front of him
And at his feet the ever-beating wings;
Beside him, held at his left hand, walked she.


I read about Sue Hubbard's Eurydice recently -- it was a poem written specifically to be read at the Waterloo underpass in England.

Apparently, Eurydice was well-loved by travelers and passers-by, but it was painted over. There is a campaign to bring it back.

It's a lovely poem. I hope this story has a happy ending.

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